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Monday, 18 June, 2001, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Oftel issues scam warning
Phone Bills
Just how much is the bill going to be?
The telecoms watchdog Oftel has warned UK businesses of a new scam that could have already added thousands of pounds to their phone bills.

The premium rate telephone watchdog ICSTIS has received a host of complaints from consumers who had unwittingly run up bills of up to 13,000 because of a loop-hole in the law.

The fraud involves 070 numbers - a service for people frequently on the move, allowing them to divert their calls between several land lines and mobiles.

Oftel has now written to trade associations asking them to warn their members of the dangers of making a lengthy call to an 070 number.

The regulator says it has no idea how much money British business has lost through the fraud, but said that the number of complaints to both Oftel and ICSTIS has been steadily rising.

Spurious fax requests

Businesses have been encouraged to fax-back information or to respond to text messages by calling premium rate telephone numbers which begin 070 or 09.

"There have been instances where people have been asked to fax back spurious lengthy surveys to a personal number at rates of up to 37.5p per minute," said Oftel in a statement.

The tricksters then permanently divert the number to a local rate call and scoop up the difference between the premium rate and the local call.

Internet access and advice lines operating on 070 numbers have also been used to rake in the money.

ICSTIS, for example, received a host of complaints from consumers who had run up bills of up to 13,000 after accessing an internet site.

The calls were made to an Internet Service Provider offering an adult-orientated closed user group. The service was labelled free but was actually via an 070 number that charged 38p per minute.

Accessing this site then led to the default setting on the user's computer being changed so that he or she continued to browse the internet at the premium rate.

Closing the loophole

The regulator has now proposed a host of measures aimed at stamping out the scam.

The revenue sharing agreements that allow the thieves to claim the differential could be banning or limited.

"Oftel is taking urgent action to clamp down on this abuse, but in the interim period you may wish to warn your members of the need for caution," said the regulator in a letter to the heads of trade bodies.

"We will not hesitate to impose sanctions against such services if they breach our code of practice," said George Kidd, Director of ICSTIS.

Oftel is now consulting the industry and is asking for comments before tackling the problem.

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